City Council to revisit district-based city elections

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Santa Clarita City Council is scheduled Tuesday to hold a special meeting to discuss a lawsuit that may put Santa Clarita voters in a position to elect their council members through district-based elections instead of the existing “at-large” method. 

The lawsuit, filed by Bay Area attorney Scott Rafferty in February 2020, asked the city to comply with the California Voting Rights Act and alleges that “at-large” elections dilute the votes of Latino residents. 

“I have great confidence that this community, which is a great community, has functioned very well with a very unique and wonderful citizenry,” said Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste. “We will figure out the best way to serve the type of community that Santa Clarita is.” 

Mayor Bill Miranda did not respond to a request for comment on this story. 

State orders issued during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic suspended a series of city-hosted public hearings required under state election law to receive public input on the drawing of council districts.  

Prior to the pandemic, the City Council had until June 18, 2020, to complete public hearings based upon the safe harbor deadlines under the Elections Code. 

Rafferty said public hearings may move forward soon, depending on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 health orders. On Friday, the California Department of Public Health issued new guidelines removing restrictions on social distancing and capacity limitation for most businesses and activities starting June 15. 

“I just want to have five really good hearings,” Rafferty told The Signal. “I don’t want to wear the public out, but at the same time, I want to make sure it’s done right.” 

Santa Clarita resident Jonathan Ahmadi formed an independent committee last year to draw council district lines based on data from the 2010 Census.  

“I believe in district-based elections. I think that they lead to more representative government. I think that it leads to more accountability for our elected officials,” said Ahmadi. 

The City Council does not discuss litigation during open sessions of public meetings. Council members’ deliberations about the litigation Tuesday night will be held during closed session. Following closed session, the city attorney will report on any council actions taken during that time. 

Elected officials serving on the College of the Canyons board of trustees and the governing boards of the school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley are elected through district-based elections. 

The public can join the City Council’s special meeting — except for the closed session portion — at 5 p.m. Tuesday at using the passcode 216729 or by calling 669-900-9128 and using the same passcode.

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